Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
A touching and utterly personal piece of drama, Angela by Mark Ravenhill is a fitting first offering in the Lyceum and Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Sound Stage project in association with Naked Productions Ltd.
The series of audio plays aims to present an ‘at home theatre experience’ with a ‘virtual theatre’ including ‘virtual bar’. It remains to be seen how this element will pan out in practice, but there can be no denying the quality of the material heard here in a preview recording.
Ravenhill’s autobiographical play (in this case also in association with BBC Radio 3) deals with his mother Angela, with her older self, ravaged by memory loss caused by dementia, intercut with a portrait of her younger self.
The older Angela is played by the ever-wonderful Pam Ferris with breathtaking honesty. Matti Houghton is impressive as the younger Angela. Toby Jones (as distinguished a radio voice as he is a screen presence) is heartbreakingly realistic as her husband Ted at various ages.
Ravenhill depicts his background with affection but also unsparingly – his younger self, superbly played by Jackson Laing, is a somewhat demanding youngster. The social pressures that meant ballet-loving Mark was unable to take up dance until his fifties are hinted at, but the focus of the story is squarely on his mother.
The time scheme of the play is fractured, but knits together beautifully, in the way that audio plays are often better at achieving than stage works.
It would be a shame if anyone was put off by the fact that, despite his enviable versatility, Ravenhill is probably still best known for some decidedly ‘in your face’ scripts.
Which is not to say that this is an easy ride; the depiction of loss of self is a thoroughly emotional experience, and may prove a difficult listen for the many who have personal experience of the situation.
There is nothing remotely exploitative about any of it, however, it is notably strong on the small indignities older people suffer. The delicacy of Ferris, Jones and the excellent Joseph Millson as the older Mark is matched by the sympathetic direction of Polly Thomas.
If anything, the audio format adds to the intensity, with composer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and sound designer John Scott providing subtle atmosphere.
Strong support for the main characters comes from a distinguished cast including Kirsty Stuart, Alexandra Mathie and a particularly striking Olivier Huband.
There is a suspicion that the play is a little too long, and that some things are spelled out just a little too clearly, but the emotional impact means that this can be forgiven.
What does add undoubted poignancy in the current climate is the way that the arts are shown to add colour and meaning to so many lives; not just ‘high art’ for a few, but popular song, children’s books and dance for everyone.
In particular, the reminder of the effect that amateur theatre can have on its performers and audiences will bring a lump to the throat of so many who are missing it, and fearing that it may never quite return in the same form.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (including interval)
Sound Stage: Royal Lyceum/ Pitlochry Festival Theatre online
Fri 26 – Sun 28 March; Thurs 1/Fri 2 April.
Evenings Thurs-Sat: 7pm; Sun 28: 4pm.
Information and tickets: